The Meaning of Liff and words that should be words

Hi everyone! Sandeep and I have both been super busy with law school stuff, much to the detriment of our aspirations to post all the time. We promise to get back on the ball, though, so stay tuned!

(posted by John)

Many of us know and love Douglas Adams for his famous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. They’re some of my favorites, not least because of Adams’s creative and awesome use of language. But as cool a word as bistromatics is, Hitchhiker’s doesn’t come close to the word-creating prolificacy of another little book of his, The Meaning of Liff. This book is entirely devoted to words that should exist to explain common (and sometimes not-so-common) scenarios, sensations, occurrences, and other phenomena, but that do not.

Here are a couple examples:

BRUMBY (n.) 
The fake antique plastic seal on a pretentious whisky bottle.

PLEELEY (adj.)
Descriptive of a drunk person’s attempt to be endearing.

THRUPP (v.) 
To hold a ruler on one end on a desk and make the other end go bbddbbddbbrrbrrrrddrr.

 Of a steel ball, to settle into a hole.

This got me thinking about another word that I think should exist. It’s not one nearly as creative as any of Adams’s, but I think it is more logically a word than most of his.

I know that I can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of my Civil Procedure reading and underwhelmed by the sheer monotony of its content, but can I just be “whelmed” by it? I think this would be a good word to start using: it would fill a linguistic gap in our language just like lots of the words in Liff would.

Let’s say you went to the movies recently to see Moneyball.  If you thought it was just about at the level of your expectations, you could say you were “whelmed” by it.  This is different from “it was fine,” or something of that ilk, in that it is talking about the movie’s quality with respect to your expectations, whereas to say it was “fine” is to make a more objective statement of its quality.  It would be particularly useful if my friend knew that I really liked Aaron Sorkin, one of the writers: if I were “whelmed” by it, it would mean that it met my expectations pretty darn well (and I could convey that with one word!).

It would also be useful for other things. If you have a particularly busy week at work, you might say that you are overwhelmed. But there’s not a good way to talk about being almost overwhelmed. I find myself in this state with some frequency: just barely keeping my head above water, but still breathing. I think that “whelm” would get at this idea nicely. If you’re “whelmed” at work, you’re busy and might soon become overwhelmed, but for now, you’re getting by.

Interestingly, “to whelm” already means something different.  My dictionary widget gives it as a verb “to engulf, submerge, or bury.” The raging ocean might whelm a floundering ship. A brook can also “whelm,” or flow, up from its source.  It’s also given as a noun,“an act or instance of flowing or heaping up; a surge.”

This doesn’t mean we can’t also use it in a new way (who uses it right now anyway?). When I’m less whelmed with work, perhaps I’ll start a campaign to spread the word!

We’d be interested to hear of other words like “whelm,” or even NAD ((n.) 
Measure defined as the distance between a driver’s outstretched fingertips and the ticket machine in parking garage), that don’t exist, but should!